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The Union Leader
30 December, 2000

Explosion at gas site rattles North Country

By Lorna Colquhoun and Nancy West

Two small buildings were demolished and a Canadian worker was trapped beneath debris for about a half-hour after an explosion rocked a natural gas compressor station last night in East Hereford, Quebec, 15 miles north of Colebrook.

North Country residents reported being shaken in their homes by the 5:30 p.m. blast at the TransQuebec & Maritimes Pipeline natural gas compressor station just over the Canadian border.

The unidentified worker was taken to a Canadian hospital last night and was believed to be in fair condition.

Beecher Falls, Vt., Fire Chief Henry Prehemo said the worker was trapped for about 30 minutes. "He was trapped under cement and under a steel door with debris on top. He was talking. He seemed to be in fairly good condition," Prehemo said.

Prehemo said his department is only about a mile and a half from the scene.

"We heard the explosion and shortly after got the call and responded. We helped evacuate the area within 1,500 feet each way.

"There were two small buildings at the transfer station, and they were both demolished," Prehemo said.

There was no gas leaking at the scene, he said. Prehemo said Beecher Falls Fire Department has volunteers from Vermont and New Hampshire towns such as Clarksville and West Stewartstown. Beecher Falls has an agreement to provide services over the Canadian border, he said.

Marc Teixeira, vice president of the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System, said: "It does seem to have been an explosion in the building, some type of natural gas incident at the East Hereford compressor station."

The Portland Natural Gas Transmission System owns the pipeline from the point where it crosses the border into Pittsburg, he said. He said he doesn't believe customers will be affected.

On Halls Stream in Pittsburg, residents said they heard an explosion; some saw a great ball of fire.

Louisette Thibealt, whose family has a farm a stone's throw from the explosion site, said she could not fully describe what she saw.

"It was too loud," she said. "There was a big ball of fire that lit up the sky." She said it shook their barn, but they would not be able to determine whether there had been any damage to the silo until daylight.

Donna Jordan, who publishes the Colebrook Chronicle with her husband, Charles, said she was on deadline laying out the paper when the second-floor office in her home in Clarksville shook.

"All of a sudden we heard this explosion like a massive sheet of ice falling off the roof. Everything tilted toward south and back up again. The windows imploded like they were being sucked in," then went back to normal, Jordan said. She said she ran out of the house and could hear the explosion reverberate off the hills.

John Harrigan, publisher of the News & Sentinel in Colebrook, said the compressor station is 15 miles due north of Colebrook. The first people he encountered at the scene were volunteer fire personnel from New Hampshire and Vermont. "They went roaring across the line to help the Canadians. That happens a lot up here," Harrigan said.

In Pittsburg, the ground shook, windows popped and residents shuddered. Pittsburg Fire Chief Sandy Young said his department and ambulance were placed on standby to be ready to help out if needed across the border.

The blast was felt throughout the northern part of the state, from Pittsburg and West Stewartstown to Clarksville and Colebrook.

The compressor station, located immediately across the Connecticut River in East Hereford, joins the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System and the TransQuebec and Maritimes Pipeline. It was opened just two years ago.

In Pittsburg, Gilles Marquis said he was in his garage talking on the telephone when "two windows popped out." His first thought was that it was ice falling from his roof, but then it felt like an earthquake.

"My daughter said she saw something like lightning - it was bright, just like daylight," he said. "She thought an airplane had exploded."

PGNTS transports natural gas through 292 miles of 24- and 30- inch mainline, including about 50 miles of laterals to provide service in New Hampshire and Maine. It provides service to paper mills, power plants and gas utilities in both states, including the Wausau-Mosinee Paper Corp. in Groveton, which reported no interruption in service last night.

The explosion shook Marquis. "I've always been scared about the pipeline," he said. "The pipeline is about 100 feet from my house. It's supposed to be real safe, but I don't know if I can sleep tonight."

Residents in Pittsburg reported that the border crossing in Beecher Falls, across the Connecticut River from West Stewartstown, was closed for a time, to allow firefighters from Beecher Falls to respond.

Colebrook firefighters responded to provide backup for the Beecher Falls department, located about 10 miles from town.

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